Kevin Tapia and Felipe Hernandez—young Latino men from Chicago’s southwest side—spent the weeks leading up to the Affordable Care Act’s enactment going door-to-door on behalf of their community, informing residents of the imminent changes laid out in the new law. They found jobs with Grassroots Collaborative and worked to make sure that the citizens of their local neighborhoods would be covered in time for the March 31 deadline.
With the law’s rollout less than a week away, Tapia and Hernandez’s efforts had brought them to Garfield Ridge—a predominately white neighborhood. There they were greeted by four police officers who stopped them, frisked them and charged them with unlawfully soliciting business. Though the Chicago Sun-Times initially reported that the police were responding to a local 911 call presuming Tapia and Hernandez’s work to be little more than an attempt to scam the elderly, Grassroots Collaborative have highlighted the incident as an obvious example of racial profiling.
The precedent for a legal framework regarding stop and frisks was established in 1968 via the United States Supreme Court’s seminal ruling in Terry v. Ohio. The Court’s decision indicated that—in the absence of probable cause for an arrest—the Fourth Amendment to the United State’ Constitution protects citizens from police interrogation and frisks unless the officer can outline a “reasonable articulable suspicion” for a stop and frisk.
Probable cause is often subjective but even the most seasoned prosecutor would be grasping at straws in arguing that these officers acted within their purview when they stopped, frisked and arrested Tapia and Hernandez. The officers were responding to a deeply speculative neighborhood call two young men were engaging in entirely nonviolent behavior. What basis they had for fearing Tapia and Hernandez were armed and dangerous wasn’t clear at the time and hasn’t become any clearer since. (more…)